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Who doesn’t love a cafe latte? Velvety milk, smooth, rich espresso, all blended together and topped with a swan, a rosetta or a heart (if you’re lucky!). When done well, a cafe latte is a magical thing. Up until fairly recently, there were only a couple of ways to satisfy your latte craving — either go to a cafe or set yourself up with a costly and space-hungry espresso machine and grinder at home.

Thankfully, those days are long gone— here we’ll show you how to make a delicious cafe latte at home using minimal equipment.

What Is a Cafe Latte

A cafe latte is a gloriously textured, creamy and smooth espresso-based milk drink that is served warm. It is traditionally (but not always, as you’ll see shortly!) made using an espresso machine with a steam wand. The espresso machine brews the coffee portion of the drink, while the steam wand assists in producing finely textured milk. 

Once the coffee shot has been pulled into a cup, steamed milk is slowly poured over the espresso. The way the milk and the coffee blend together allows the barista or home coffee enthusiast to pour patterns in the crema of the coffee, playing with the dark golden espresso and the creamy milk. To pour some of the more stunning patterns, you might have seen — swans, multiple rosettas, or even a stack of hearts — one’s microfoam (extremely finely textured foam) milk game must be on point.      

While the exact definition of the cafe latte is vague, to say the least, there are a couple of things most people can agree on:

  • A cafe latte contains espresso. Now, the amount of espresso varies from cafe to cafe, and from country to country. Many modern cafes have settled on somewhere in the league of between 20 and 40g of espresso for a standard 8oz cup.
  •  A cafe latte contains textured milk. We’re not talking froth or foam that is spooned over the top of hot milk and coffee— we’re talking finely textured, creamy microfoam blended in with the espresso. Smooth, not lumpy, and certainly not to be eaten with a spoon, separate from the coffee.

Following these rough guidelines, we end up with a drink that is 20-25 percent espresso coffee and 75-80 percent finely textured milk. 

Benefits of Making a Homemade Latte

Making a Latte at Home is Awesome

Just like making your own tasty meal full of the stuff you like, there is a huge sense of satisfaction making your own latte (especially when it works out well!). You can tailor your latte to exactly how you like it — the strength of the coffee, temperature of the milk, coffee variety, type of milk— you can have it your way. No need to head down to the cafe and no need to spend up to $5 on a cup of coffee (not saying that $5 latte isn’t worth every penny— but $5 adds up if it’s every day). 

Ingredients and Equipment to Make a Latte at Home

In order to make a delicious cafe latte at home, we need a few bits of gear and ingredients. None are particularly expensive (in fact, you may even have them in your kitchen already), nor are they difficult to use. Let’s take a look at the equipment first, then dive into the ingredients.

Equipment

Our main goal here, when making a latte at home, is to produce a shot of espresso and hot textured milk. We can do this in a number of different ways, with a number of different devices and gadgets.

Grinder

First, we need to grind the coffee, so we’ll need a coffee grinder. 

A burr coffee grinder is probably the single most important piece of coffee brewing equipment one can own. Why? To make really tasty coffee, we need not only coffee beans that have been freshly ground —  but those grinds need to be relatively even in size. This will brew each particle of ground coffee evenly, creating a more solid, full tasting cup of coffee. 

The problem with pre-ground coffee is that it oxidizes extremely quickly, losing much of its flavor and almost all of its aroma within hours of being ground.  

The good news is that you don’t need to spend a fortune to get a good grinder. The most inexpensive options are simple hand grinders like the Porlex Mini, which are more than capable of doing what we need them to. Hand grinders do require a little effort, but for the price, they are a steal. 

If you’re not wanting to grind by hand first thing in the morning, that’s absolutely fair enough. Check out the famous Baratza Vario or the Encore, both of which produce excellent grind for the price also.

Having your own grinder is especially important when making espresso-based drinks. This is so we can make small adjustments to our grind size in order to match our taste preferences. If the coffee is too bitter, we can make our grind courser. If the coffee is tasting sour and is lacking strength, we’ll make the grind finer.  

Scales 

While scales aren’t absolutely essential to brewing coffee— we could approximate amounts using spoons and measuring cups— they do make life a whole lot easier. They also make your coffee game much more consistent.

A coffee scale allows us to control exactly how much coffee we use and how much water we add to that coffee. The amount of each ingredient that we use will directly impact the flavor of the resulting beverage. Add too much water; the coffee will be weak. Add too little water and there won’t be enough of it to extract all the good stuff from the ground coffee.     

A scale is the only reliable way of being able to repeat a delicious coffee recipe over and over again. 

Coffee Maker

Equipment to Make a Latte at Home - Coffee Maker

Next, we need a way of brewing some espresso. We could buy an espresso machine, but this would be a big investment of both time and money.

Taking traditional espresso machines out of the equation, there are still dozens of different devices to help us hack our way to espresso or espresso-like coffee at home.

Espresso coffee relies on a combination of pressure and grinds size to brew a very strong ‘shot’ of coffee in around 30 seconds. To extract this much flavor in that short amount of time, we need a device that creates at least some pressure. Unfortunately, making up a strong batch of French press coffee won’t cut it (save that French press for the foaming the milk!). Here are a few devices that can do what we need them to.

AeroPress

The AeroPress is an excellent option for making espresso at home, especially when combined with the Fellow Prismo AeroPress attachment, specially designed for brewing espresso using an AeroPress. While it won’t produce real, cafe-quality espresso, it will produce a tasty shot that works well with milk. 

The AeroPress is not only great for brewing espresso— one can also brew tasty filter coffee and even cold brew within its durable plastic fortress walls. Having one device that can do so many things well is rare. Other pour-over coffee makers make a delicious brew, but can’t produce anything close to espresso coffee. While not essential, a pour-over kettle hits each ground evenly and can come in handy to ensure the exact amount of water is used for brewing. 

Stovetop Espresso Maker

Another great option, and one you may already be using as part of your current brewing setup, is a stovetop espresso maker. While not being capable of producing real espresso, the combination of a tight brew ratio and a finer grind size, the world’s best stovetop espresso maker can brew something that will work well in a cafe latte. A 4-cup stainless steel stovetop espresso maker is a good option. Many feel that stainless steel coffee machines brew better-tasting coffee.

Pods and Capsules

Pods and capsules are in the running for the closest we’ll get to a shot of espresso without a real espresso machine. Now, I know what you might be thinking — pods are often associated with poor quality coffee. While this may be true in some cases, the quality of coffee in pods has risen dramatically, with many specialty coffee companies utilizing the excellent capabilities of a reliable Keurig coffee machine and the like, to brew espresso at home. Pods really take out the guesswork of brewing, and the amount of equipment needed. No need to worry about brew times or coffee and water ratios— pods allow the coffee roaster to control the consumer’s brewing experience. So as long as you go with a decent coffee roaster for your pods and capsules, you should end up with a pretty damn tasty espresso. 

Milk Foamer

Now that we have our tasty espresso, we need to start thinking about our milk! 

When a cafe makes a caffe latte, a flat white or cappuccino, they use what is known as a steam wand to produce the textured milk. A steam wand, which you may have seen if you’ve taken a close look at an espresso machine (it’s the steel tube or ‘wand’ poking out on either side), simultaneously heats the milk while adding air to it, thickening and foaming the milk, giving it its beautiful silky texture. 

Producing milk like this can be done without an espresso machine, and the results can be surprisingly good. Two of the three devices mentioned below don’t actually heat the milk—so for those devices, milk heating will need to be done using a small pot on a stovetop.     

French Press

I’m sure most people who drink coffee are aware of the trusty old French press, and what a tasty cup of coffee it can produce. But what some might not know, is that a French press can be used to foam warm milk! 

The milk in a cafe latte is simply warm milk that has been aerated. To do this using a French press, simply add the warm milk (that has been warmed up on the stovetop— more on that later), and use the plunger to quickly pull up and push down until your desired texture is reached. It’s actually really simple and requires almost no technique.   

Electric Handheld Milk Frother 

Electric Handheld Milk Frother

An electric handheld milk frother is essentially an electric whisk that spins incredibly quickly. When this whisk is placed just below the surface of the milk and turned on, it introduces air to the milk as it spins, quickly whipping the milk into the latte-esque foam.  

Electric Milk Frother and Steamer

This is the automatic milk frother— the only option on the list that heats and foams the milk and does it all on its own. An electric milk frother and steamer is a device, similar to a kettle both in looks and in function. Simply add milk and turn it on. 

While an electric milk frother and steamer is by far the easiest option when it comes to creating foamy milk at home, it isn’t without its downsides. The main issue with an electric milk frother and steamer is that the amount of foam you get isn’t adjustable, nor is the temperature of the milk. There are usually only two settings— hot milk or hot foamed milk. This will certainly be an issue for some people who like their latte with less foam. 

Latte Glass or Cup

Last but certainly not least, you’ll need a beautiful cup to do justice to your delicious latte. 

Looks aren’t the only thing to consider here. Most good coffee reveals different flavors as the coffee cools. This isn’t only the case for cafe lattes, but for all hot coffees. A thin cup won’t provide any insulation, allowing the heat to escape quickly. What this means is that you won’t get a chance to enjoy the coffee as it slowly cools— tasing the coffees transition from vibrant blueberry notes to floral jasmine. 

A good mug will keep your coffee tasty and warm. Another option here is to use a mug warmer. Mug warmers hit the coffee evenly, keeping the coffee at a nice, stable temperature for a long time. 

Ingredients

To make a delicious cafe latte at home, we need delicious ingredients. This means some fresh coffee by your favorite local coffee roaster, and some tasty milk. Let’s take a look at what works best.

Coffee Beans

There are two main kinds of roasts that most coffee roasters will offer— espresso and filter. 

Coffee that has been roasted specifically for espresso is typically a bit darker and more developed than a coffee roasted for filter purposes. The coffee roaster will do this to make the coffee easier to breakdown, and to brew. 

Because a shot of espresso uses such a small amount of water, beans roasted a bit darker is a good option to ensure the most efficient extraction. 

Another thing to keep in mind in regards to coffee is freshness. Espresso prefers reasonably fresh coffee. Somewhere around five to twelve days past, a coffees roast date is about perfect. If it takes you a bit longer to go through a bag, or you want to extend this 5-12 day window, check out the best coffee canister. It will keep the oxygen away from your precious coffee, ensuring freshness for a longer period of time. 

Milk

Possibly the best part about making your own cafe latte at home is getting to choose your own milk. 

The options are pretty open here— you can use any milk you like the taste of. While skim and low-fat milk will do the trick, full-fat milk tends to work much better, thanks to its high-fat content. 

Just like how there are good-tasting vegan coffee creamers, there are also unbelievable tasting vegan milk, such as Oatly’s Barista edition oat milk, which works excellently in a cafe latte.

Optional Toppings and Syrups

This is where any additions come in. These are absolutely optional— it’s your coffee, so you should drink it the way you like it. You could add a little white sugar for sweetness, raw sugar for a richer flavor, chocolate powder for that mocha vibe, or spice up your latte with coffee syrup. For an ultra-deluxe cafe latte, try grating some dark chocolate over the top. It isn’t very traditional, but it does taste delicious.   

Steamed Milk vs Frothed Milk

Steamed Milk vs Frothed Milk

You might have seen the terms steamed milk and frothed milk in relation to coffee, and wondered what the difference is. 

Well, technically, steamed milk is simply milk that has been heated with the use of a steam wand on an espresso machine. This is opposed to frothed milk, which is hot milk that has had air added to it either by means of a steam wand or milk frother, resulting in thicker aerated milk.

Having said that, many will refer to the milk that is in a cafe latte simply as ‘steamed milk’. This is because frothed milk implies that the milk is thick and foamy, whereas steamed milk, in this context, implies more creamy, velvety, and smooth milk.

How to Make a Cafe Latte at Home Without an Espresso Machine 

Let’s get to it! We’ll break these how-to guides down into two sections — espresso and milk. We’ll include a few favorite options for each, starting with espresso, then moving onto the milk side of things.  

How to Brew Espresso for a Cafe Latte at Home

AeroPress 

You’ll need:

  • AeroPress
  • Grinder
  • Scale
  • Timer
  • Spoon or paddle
  • Cup or mug
  • Hot water 
  • 16-18g coffee (depending on your preferred strength)

Step 1 – Boil the water

First, boil your water. For this recipe, we’ll be using 90g of water, so no need to boil a whole kettle full of water. 

Step 2 – Grind the coffee

Set your grinder to a fine grind setting. We’re looking for a grind here around the same texture as fine beach sand. Use between 16 and 18 grams of coffee, depending on how strong you like it. 

Step 3 – Rinse the filter

Filters often have an unpleasant papery taste to them. To remove this, we’ll rinse the filter. Place a filter in the cap of the AeroPress and pour a little hot water through it (careful not to burn your fingers). 

Step 4 – Add the coffee to the AeroPress

For this espresso-like brew method, we’ll be using the AeroPress in inverted mode. Fix the plunger into the AeroPress brew chamber about halfway, and set it on your scales upsidedown (or inverted). Transfer the ground coffee to the AeroPress and press tare on the scales. 

Step 5 – Begin brewing

Start the timer and quickly pour 90g of hot water into the AeroPress. Once the water has been poured, remove the AeroPress from the scales. Stir vigorously for 30-40 seconds. We will be brewing for 90 seconds in total.  

Step 6 – Lid on, flip and plunge

Once 90 seconds is up, screw the cap on the AeroPress, place a cup on top, and carefully flip it over. Slowly plunge the coffee into the cup. Your espresso without a machine is now ready!

 

Stovetop Espresso Maker

You’ll need:

  • 4-cup stovetop espresso maker 
  • Grinder
  • Cup or mug 
  • Hot water 
  • 18g coffee
  • Access to a stove

Step 1 – Boil the water

Boil your water. We’ll need about 200ml. 

Step 2 – Grind the coffee

Next, we’ll grind the coffee. We’re looking for a very fine grind, close to the texture of fine beach sand. 

Step 3 – Add the water

Pour the water in the bottom chamber of the stovetop until just below the release valve. In a 4-cup stovetop, this should be about 200ml.  

Step 4 – Add the coffee

Add the ground coffee to the basket of the stovetop espresso maker. Don’t tamp it, don’t mess with it too much— just give it a shake to level out the bed of coffee. 

Step 5 – Assemble the stovetop espresso maker

Put the filter basket back into the bottom chamber and screw on the top chamber.

Step 6 – Start brewing

We have 200ml of water in our brewer, but we don’t want to use all of that water. We want to use a little less than half of it, to give us about 80ml of espresso. To achieve this, we’ll stop the brew early. 

Place the stovetop espresso maker on the stove over medium heat. As the heat of the stovetop increases and the pressure rises, the water will push up through the coffee and into the top chamber. We want to let the stovetop brew until we hear a tiny little bubbling sound. Once you hear the first little bubble, immediately remove the stovetop espresso maker from the heat and run the bottom chamber (where the remaining water is) under a cold tap. This is to stop the brewing process.

Step 7 – Pour the espresso

Now we should have about 80ml of near espresso coffee in the top chamber. Pour the coffee into your favorite cup and get ready to prepare some milk! 

Capsule or Pod  

Before we begin with this recipe, keep in mind that you can use any pod or capsule machine that you have. You don’t need to go out and pick up a Keurig; you can make K-cup coffee without a Keurig; there are plenty of options.

You’ll need:

  • Capsule or Pod machine
  • Coffee capsule or pod
  • Cup or mug 
  • Water 

Step 1 – Fill the machine

Top up your machine with water. 

Step 2 – Brew

Choose your favorite coffee pod or capsule, place it in your machine, place your cup in the cup area, and set your machine to brew either a double or single, depending on what you prefer. Engage the brew. Once the brew is done, discard or compost the pod or capsule. Now get ready to make some latte milk!

 

How to Make the Milk for a Cafe Latte

How to Froth Milk With a French Press

You’ll need:

  • French press
  • A small pot or saucepan
  • Thermometer (optional but highly recommended) 
  • 125ml milk

Step 1 – Heat the milk

Pour 125ml of milk into your pot. Place this over low-medium heat. Use your thermometer to keep an eye on the temperature of the milk. We’re aiming for between 55 and 65 degrees celsius (131-149°F). Any hotter than 65 and the milk will begin to break down— it will lose its lovely sweetness and will taste a bit eggy and strange.

Step 2 – Foam the milk

Transfer the warm milk into the French press and plunge quickly, up and down, for around 60 seconds, or until the milk has reached your desired consistency. 

Step 3 – Pour your cafe latte

Give your beautiful latte milk a swirl. Swirling will make sure the milk is combined and will help to remove some of the bubbles. Slowly pour the milk into the espresso. Try to pour a rosetta or swan and enjoy it!    

How to Froth Milk With an Electric Handheld Milk Frother

You’ll need:

  • Electric handheld milk frother
  • A measuring jug or small vessel to froth the milk in
  • A small pot or saucepan
  • Thermometer (optional but highly recommended) 
  • 125ml milk

Step 1 – Heat the milk

First, we’ll heat our milk. Pour 125ml of milk into your pot or saucepan. Place it on the stove and set it at low-medium heat. Use your thermometer to monitor the temperature of the milk. Anywhere between 55 and 65 degrees celsius (131-149°F) is perfect. Much hotter than 65 and the milk will begin to break down, will lose its sweetness, and develop some unpleasant flavors. 

Step 2 – Foam the milk

Transfer the warm milk into a more narrow vessel like a measuring jug. Place the whisk part of your frother just below the surface of the milk. You want to tilt the jug a little, and as the milk in the jug starts to spin, slowly work small amounts of air into it by raising the milk frother slightly above the surface. This should take around 30 seconds to reach a latte type of milk.

Step 3 – Pour your cafe latte

Swirl your latte milk to get rid of any big bubbles. Pour your delicious latte milk into the espresso shot you prepared earlier.

How to Froth Milk With an Electric Milk Frother and Steamer

You’ll need:

  • Electric milk frother and steamer
  • 125ml milk

Step 1 – Add milk to the frother and steamer

Pour your 125ml of milk into your frothing and steaming device. Place on the lid and engage the steam and froth function. Your latte ready milk will be done in 1-2 minutes. Easy!

 

Difference Between a Cafe Latte and Other Coffees

Latte vs Cappuccino

A modern-day cappuccino is strikingly similar to a cafe latte. For better or for worse (many in the coffee industry think the former), the days of a lumpy, eat-with-a-spoon, mountain of foam cappuccinos are long gone. 

This didn’t happen overnight; it was a slow progression. The shift in milk came with the popularity of latte art (which is too difficult to pour with very foamy milk), and the fact that many cafes realized that a cappuccino is much more pleasant to drink when the milk is smooth and is blended in with the coffee. 

A cappuccino uses steamed milk that is a little thicker than the milk used for a latte, but no so foamy that is can keep its shape (like meringue). More often than not, a cappuccino will have a dusting of chocolate powder on top. 

Latte vs Espresso

When you see the word espresso, say, on a menu or in a drink recipe, this is usually referring to an espresso shot. 

An espresso shot is a very strong coffee that is usually brewed using an espresso machine.

Finely ground coffee is added to a part of the machine known as the group handle.  This coffee is compacted or ‘tamped’ down before a small amount of hot water (usually double the amount of water to coffee) is pushed through the coffee puck under around 9 bars of pressure. This process will extract around 23% of the ground coffee’s soluble material, leaving you, the brewer, with a delicious (hopefully) shot of espresso. 

This shot of espresso can be used in a variety of other espresso-based drinks, including a cafe latte. 

FAQ About Making a Latte at Home

FAQ About Making a Latte at Home

Can you make a latte with regular coffee?

You need either espresso coffee or something similar in strength and intensity, in order to make a latte at home. Filter coffee won’t cut it. You can add foamy milk to the top of your filter coffee, but won’t taste like a latte, unfortunately.  

How do you make a latte in a blender?

If you find yourself in desperate need of a latte and don’t have any of the milk foaming gear mentioned above, why not try foaming the milk in the blender? Heat your milk up to between 55 and 65 degrees celsius (131-149°F), add it to your blender and mix it for about a minute. This method won’t produce excellent microfoam, but hey, it’s not bad for a blender!

Is frothed milk the same as steamed milk?

Steamed milk is milk that has been heated with the use of a steam wand. This is opposed to frothed milk, which is hot milk that has had air added to it, either by means of a steam wand or milk frother, resulting in thicker aerated milk. While these are the rough technical definitions, one could describe the milk used in a cafe latte as ‘steamed milk’.

How long do you steam milk for a latte?

If using a steam wand attached to an espresso machine, steaming will take between 20-40 seconds. If heating the milk in a pan, then frothing it using a french press or an electric hand foamer, the whole process should take around 5-10 minutes. 

How much milk is in a latte?

It really depends on your cup size. For the recipes mentioned above, we use 125ml of milk. This will give a beautiful balance between the flavors of the coffee and the sweetness of the milk.  

How many shots are in a latte?

Because the term shot is rather vague, it is better to go by weight. A modern-day latte will usually contain between 20 and 40 grams of espresso.

Conclusion

A caffe latte really is a thing of beauty — nice rich espresso blended with creamy sweet milk — magical. Making a cafe latte at home is not only easy, but fun — so get some tasty coffee, some delicious milk, and have fun with it! 

Photos from: belchonock / depositphotos.com, macniak / depositphotos.com, buecax / depositphotos.com, naltik / depositphotos.com and AllaSerebrina / depositphotos.com.